Hamas marked the 25th anniversary of its inception Saturday, with a ceremony and a mass rally held in Gaza City's al-Katiba Square.
Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal, his deputy Dr. Mousa Abu Marzook and politburo member Izzat al-Rishak attended the ceremony for the first time ever; as did top Fatah leaders.
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Senior politburo member Saleh Al Arouri was also scheduled to attend the rally, but according to Egyptian media, Israel vetoed his presence; stressing that his presence in the enclave would jeopardize the recent ceasefire deal struck between Israel and Hamas.
Israel further vetoed the presence of Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ramadan Shallah and his deputy, Ziyad Nahala.
Thousands of Hamas supporters, some of them flashing victory signs, were braving the rain to attend the event. Some parents brought children dressed in military uniforms.
A spokesman for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades addressed the crowd, and spoke of Ahmed Jabari, whose targeted assassination sparked Operation Pillar of Defense.
Jabari, said the spokesman, played a key role in the resistance: "We vow to keep on with the resistance and with the Jihad until we defeat the occupation and purify the holy sites."
Gaza rally (Photo: Reuters)
He thanked Iran and Turkey for their support during the days of the recent Gaza conflict and pledged that Hamas' military wing "will never abandon Gaza."
Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the cheering crowds that Gaza was victorious in the last military campaign because of "Hamas' thorough preparations beforehand."
The movement, he said, "Has thousands of combatants, on and under the ground, who are ready to ward off any Israeli aggression. The occupation will not remain on this land," he declared.
Politburo Chief Mashaal, PM Haniyeh at the rally (Photo: Reuters)
Haniyeh hailed Jabari as a "shahid" – a martyr – adding that he was not only a leader within Hamas, but "A great leader of the Arab nation."
He too thanked the Arab world for siding with the Palestinians during their fight against Israel, saying Hamas will now "begin formulating an Arab and Islamic strategy for the liberation of Palestine."
'Right of return sacred'
Mashaal took the podium next. "The West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israeli Arabs are united in the path of resistance, Jihad and the shahids," he told the elated masses.
"It will not be long before we see all the Palestinian prisoners released from prison. We promise you that. The way we freed some of the prisoners in the past is the way we will use to free the remaining prisoners."
He further thanked the military wings of all the Palestinian factions for their sacrifice during November's conflict with Israel.
Future supporter? (Photo: Reuters)
"Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north. There will be no concession on an inch of the land," he said.
"We will never recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation and therefore there is no legitimacy for Israel, no matter how long it will take."
The politburo chief continued: "Jihad and the armed resistance is the only true path to liberation."
He congratulated the militants who were able to target cities in central Israel, saying that "We don't kill Jews because they are Jews. We kill the Zionists because they are conquerors and we will continue to kill anyone who takes our land and our holy places.
"The conqueror is not just the enemy of the Palestinians but the enemy of the entire Arab world. The Zionist plan is a danger to us all.
"We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone…the right of return is sacred to us and we will not forfeit it."
Crowds gather in Gaza City (Photo: AFP)
Earlier Saturday, Hamas released a statement, carried by the "Palestine Information Center" website, saying that the movement has "renewed its adherence to the option of resistance for the liberation of Palestine."
"Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people, their land and holy sites only boost the Palestinian people's steadfastness and resistance and cannot succeed in breaking their will," the statement said.
'Domestic pride.' M75 missile (Photo: Reuters)
"We will stay faithful to Jerusalem, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Islamic and Christian holy sites, and will not relinquish any part of them. We also support those steadfast in Jerusalem and our 1948 occupied land in the face of Judaization and displacement schemes."
Hamas further urged the Arab League and the organization of Islamic cooperation to protect the Palestinian people's interests "Against Israel's violations"; and implored them to take action to end the four-year blockade on Gaza.
Preparations for the ceremony were in full throttle throughout the week with Hamas positioning a full-scale model of an M75 rocket – the likes of which were fired at Israel during the latest round of escalation in the south – in the middle of al-Katiba Square.
Hamas has repeatedly boasted the rocket's ability to hit targets within a 70kn range, as well as the fact that the missile is domestically produced.
Hamas originally intended to hold its anniversary celebrations next week, but the date was pushed up to coincide with the anniversary of the First Intifada.
You can contact Elior Levy, Ynet's Palestinian Affairs Correspondent, at: email@example.com
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